Question of the week: How do I help a stepdad who has gotten close to his stepsons and now the wife wants a divorce?


“He has been the only dad these kids have known. He has taken care of them physically, financially, has taken them to school each day and to church every Sunday. He loves them as his own. These boys love him and they are going to be devastated when the divorce happens. The sons don’t know about the divorce. What can I say to help ease the pain this stepfather is feeling? What can be done for these little boys?”

This is a difficult situation that many stepparents face. They fall in love with someone who has children. If the children don’t have contact with the other parent, the stepparent becomes the surrogate parent. The kids fall in love with the stepparent and then boom, everything explodes when the birth parent decides he or she wants out of the marriage.

I’ve seen it happen with both stepmoms and stepdads. Many times these children will face several stepparents during their childhood years. Every time an adult disappears from a child’s life, the harder it becomes for the child to attach to the next person.

Suggestions for the stepparent

  • In some states and locales judges are awarding visitation to stepparents (or live-in boyfriends/girlfriends). The stepparent will need to prove they have taken care of the child physically, provided for them financially, and in general have become a parent to the child.
  • Encourage the stepparent to consult with a lawyer about the possibility of staying connected to the children through court-ordered visitation.
  • Encourage the parent and stepparent to tell the children together about the impending divorce.
  • Explain when the stepparent will be leaving and where he or she will be living.
  • If the birth parent agrees or the judge allows for visitation, explain how often and when the children will be allowed to see and or visit the stepparent.
  • If it is not possible for the stepparent to have continued contact with the children, like a birth parent would in a divorcing situation, encourage the stepparent to ask the birth parent if the cutoff in the relationship between adult and child can be a gradual process. This will give the children a chance to adjust and grieve the loss of an important adult in their lives.
  • If possible, encourage the stepparent to mail cards for every occasion and to stay in touch with the children.
  • Pray with the stepparent about how the Lord can use the situation for His glory.

What can the church do?

  • Stay connected to the children. Have the Sunday School teachers call when the children are not in attendance.
  • Send cards and letters of encouragement to the birth parent and the children.
  • While it might be an awkward situation, please continue to remember the children and reach out when appropriate.
  • Love the birth parent and continue to invite them to church functions. More than likely they will eventually leave your church, but continue to invite them to special functions such as Christmas plays or Easter events.

For future situations

Many times when a custodial dad or mom starts dating, church leaders will encourage them to think toward marriage. While this is not wrong, sometimes things move too fast. Church leaders can counsel couples to explore all aspects of a future marriage.

If possible, take the couple through a stepparent program so they can become aware of the many issues blended families face. Assign a strong, spiritually healthy married couple to mentor the newly forming blended family. If there are residual issues for one of the partners, encourage that person to attend a DivorceCare group so he or she can be sure to have healed from the previous marriage or relationship.

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